The white horse inn (sibton)
review date: june 2015
Lesley Rawlinson revisits the award winning Sibton White Horse
I’m often asked to recommend destinations for eating out and, let’s face it, in Suffolk we’re quite spoiled for choice with the number of town and country pubs, hotels and restaurants worthy of praise. Often my suggestions are accompanied by asking the reason for the outing; celebration dinner, romantic meal or casual night out? – the answer will often shape my view. But what’s in the winning formula? After all, with so many respected food and drink producers on our doorsteps any chef worth his or her salt will be sourcing the very best local ingredients from across the county whenever possible. Stunning locations and well designed surroundings aren’t in short supply either so maybe for me – over and above all of this – people make the biggest difference. I’m not just talking about a friendly greeting on arrival and a warm handshake when you leave but a team that really cares about its customers and that’s the feeling I always get at the Sibton White Horse.
Neil & Gill Mason have been at the White Horse since 2005 and in that time have notched up an impressive haul of accolades. Currently holders of two AA Rosettes, a Visit Britain four star Silver Award and an AA four star inn Gold Award they are also the Good Pub Guide’s Country Dining Pub of the Year for 2015. Consistently earning awards, as they have in recent years, means the values of this business are absolutely understood at every level. There’s an unassuming air, yet nothing is overlooked. Drinkers and diners are equally welcome and the relaxed, informal setting means you can choose to eat in the bar (with a cosy fire when it’s cold outside), in the raised gallery or the elegantly beamed dining room. It’s at this time of year though that the outside hidden courtyard with its Mediterranean styled sheltered terrace makes a perfect choice for al fresco dining. I love too that when you’re enjoying your meal outdoors you can see where some of the herbs, salads and vegetables have been grown in the kitchen garden – further testament to the passion that Neil, Gill and the team pour in to this business by the bucket load.
Our most recent visit was at the very end of April and although we’d have loved to have eaten outside the weather wasn’t playing its part so we decided instead on a table in the cosy bar. James Finch and his team in the kitchen make everything on the menu from scratch; from bread to ice cream – yet more proof of the seam of passion running deep through the psyche here. The team also revises the menu weekly, changing a couple of the starters, mains and desserts each time so that within a month (or so) diners will be presented with a completely fresh menu – perfect for regular customers as well as occasional visitors. I was interested to hear some research recently (on a ‘chefy’ TV programme as I recall) about the way in which restaurant customers read a menu and I realised I was conforming to one of the key habits – choosing my main course first and then a starter to complement, rather than the other way around. However, my husband had already spied a dish that would be a definite starting choice for him; seared breast of local wood pigeon with apricot and coriander cous cous, tagine sauce and curry oil. On arrival the dish looked magnificent – beautifully pink pigeon and a very generous portion – and after enjoying every single mouthful it was declared “a disappointment to have finished it” as he wished he had savoured the enjoyment for longer, high praise indeed! I chose a much simpler dish of local asparagus and pea risotto, finished with cream and parmesan and while less complex I couldn’t have been happier with my selection. In fact I’d order again but as a main course choice as the sweet pea and asparagus flavours teamed perfectly with the sharp, nuttiness of the cheese and I could have happily devoured a large, comforting bowlful.
The main course dish that had shaped my starter choice was Blythburgh pork tenderloin, rosti potato, wilted greens, celeriac puree and Aspall cyder jus. James has designed a showcase here to celebrate a Suffolk partnership in joyous harmony as the pork and cyder were simply made for each other and by keeping the accompanying vegetables simple too, the plate was another I’d happily order again and again. We were obviously in meaty mood as Adrian’s choice was confit leg of Gressingham duck served with mustard grain mash and star anise carrots (both of which he’s promised to recreate at home)along with braised red cabbage and plum sauce. Another winner – and another where the true flavours of the components were allowed to shine through – there’s certainly a theme here!
We were feeling indulgent and so the dessert menu was given full perusal and Mr R couldn’t resist the indulgent espresso chocolate torte with Baileys cream but when my cheese board arrived we realised we could have easily shared…and we did. The selection of artisan cheeses and biscuits was accompanied by homemade apricot chutney and fresh fruits and would also make a good lunch time choice with a glass of the delicious Malbec or a pint of something refreshing.
As the summer progresses the offering at the White Horse broadens even further as the now famous Friday barbecues roll into action. Freshly prepared in the outdoor kitchen you can look on as your hand made patty and bun are cooked to order along with all the traditional sides and salads. I know we’ll be aiming to make it up to Sibton while for an al fresco lunch, maybe teamed with a good dog walk while the warmer weather is with us and after all, if we fancy making more of it, there’s overnight accommodation too.
The Sibton White Horse Inn
Halesworth Road, Sibton, Nr Saxmundham, Suffolk. IP17 2JJ